Occult Detectives

When I was in high school, about the same time I was introduced to Lovecraft’s work, I also came across editions of John Silence, Carnacki the Ghost Finder and The Dream Detective, aka Morris Klaw. I’ve been a sucker for occult detectives ever since, though my interest wanes after Jules de Grandin in the 1930s. Over the lat several years, Ash Tree Press has been publishing a series of occult detective volumes featuring stories unobtainable in almost any other form. I’ll review these periodically for those of you who share my taste.

Thomas Carnacki is, if not the greatest of occult detectives, certainly the most fondly remembered today. He will play an important part in the next series of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Ash Tree has released a collection of pastiches, of which more in a moment. The Mycroft & Moran edition of Hodgson’s originals commands collector’s prices, and the original editions are hard to find and unaffordable when they do turn up. There have been many newer editions in recent years.

Most of this is due to Hodgson’s mastery of weird atmosphere and his staggering imagination. While they might not have been as influential on the course of the weird tale as Lovecraft and Poe, Hodgson’s novels The House on the Borderland and The Night-Land rank as two of the most original and creative novels, fantasy or otherwise, ever written.

The first six Carnacki stories appeared in the The Idler and The New Magazine over the course of 1910-1912. they were collected together in book form in 1913, and reissued in a “cheap” edition in 1920. The “cheap” edition is currently for sale on eBay for the princely sum of $2,499.00.

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In 1947, August Dereleth decided to reprint the Carnacki stories under his Mycroft & Moran imprint. In corresponding with Hodgson’s widow (he was killed during World War 1), two additional Carnacki stories turned up, one of which, The Hog, is possibly the best of the entire series (though The Gateway of the Monster and The Whistling Room also might lay claim to that title.) The book was limited to 3,000 copies.

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Fans being fans, it was inevitable that someone would write pastiches to continue the series. In 2002, Ash Tree Press brought out No. 472 Cheyne Walk, titled after Carnacki’s address. As is Ash Tree’s usual policy, the print run was limited to 500 copies.The twelve stories are written by A.F. Kidd and Rick Bennett, some independently, others in collaboration, and are based on various cases that Carnacki alludes to in the original stories but never relates. A few of these ‘untold’ stories had earlier appeared in a booklet of the same name. I’m still reading the book, so the jury is still out. Kidd captures the feel of the originals nicely, but the stories I’ve read lack the sense of the weird that mark the originals. The Darkness almost makes it, but then ends abruptly and unsatisfyingly.

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At one point, when I was plotting Lovecraft is Missing, I considered having Carnacki put in an appearance, but ultimately the idea was in conflict with one of the major themes, so I dropped it. But I did do a drawing of the older, wiser Carnacki as he would have appeared. As you can see, my version would have been a bit different.

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  1. Edward Sauve

    Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer recently used Carnacki in Gravel.

  2. Dumb post

    Mr. Moore has revealed more of his plans for The Leauge? (The 21 century version ought to be gender-neutral, due to Orlando, if nothing else).

    If Carnacki is not the Greatest of occult detectives, who then?

    The Dream Detective? Perhaps Mr. Wolfes novel
    is a hommage, then?
    Apparently, the Net is full of onierokritikal PIs these days…

    @Sauve: they are following Mr. Moores lead, at a guess.

  3. Martin

    If you are looking for extensions to the Carnacki universe, take a look at http://www.forgottenfutures.com/game/ff4/ . This is role playing rather than fiction but well work the read anyway. From this link check out the “Worldbook” and “Adventures”.

    The first paints the Carnacki universe including the missing parts of his life and what some of the other cases that he investigated (and name dropped) in his stories. The adventures are mysteries that Marcus Rowland created for others to investigate.

    Even if you are not a role player, this provides excellent Carnacki background material.

  4. Dumb post

    Why, thank you! On behalf of Hodgson enthuiasts, generally.